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The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

MUWU fires up crowd at rally

MUWU fires up crowd at rally

 It has been over a month since the Macalester Undergraduate Workers’ Union (MUWU) went public with their efforts to unionize all of Macalester’s student workers. This past Friday, March 1, MUWU held their first rally. 

 The rally, which took place in the Loch, aimed to fire up MUWU members and strengthen their community. The crowd was made up of Macalester students, members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and union organizing groups such as the Office and Professional Employee International Union (OPEIU) and Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee (EWOC). It numbered about 60, according to MUWU organizers’ estimates. 

 The event featured speeches from six members of MUWU, singalongs of union songs and other opportunities for engagement, such as talking to other attendees about workplace issues and meeting the leaders of different ‘shops,’ or groups of student workers. 

Many students were there to support better wages and conditions for themselves or their friends. 

“I am utterly just tired of the unpromised hours I have for my tuition,” Luna Muñoz-Maldonado ’27, who works in AV Services, said. “It’s becoming so incredibly hard to pay for things. And then I see my friends, coworkers, students, everybody here suffering in worse conditions, arguably, especially at Cafe Mac. We’re here unionizing to get rid of all these problems and make everything better, hopefully.” 

The rally started with a speech delivered by Yamalí Rodas Figueroa ’27. Rodas Figueroa spoke about their experiences as a formerly undocumented, low-income, first-generation student. As a facilitator of the Immigrant Identity Collective at Macalester, Rodas Figueroa represents Macalester’s undocumented students who are often overlooked by the institution. Undocumented students cannot receive a federal work study award, and the only employment opportunity available to them is through the summer funds Macalester provides to students with unpaid internships. Rodas Figueroa hopes that MUWU will be able to advocate for undocumented students’ work opportunities on campus. 

“It’s imperative that we center our efforts on the most marginalized groups within our community, ensuring that every voice is heard and represented.” Rodas Figueroa said. 

Rodas Figueroa pointed to Amherst College, which provides undocumented students with fellowships and stipends that allow them to seek on-campus employment. They urged their fellow students to support MUWU in putting pressure on the Board of Trustees (BoT) and President Suzanne Rivera to prioritize undocumented students. 

“Let us strive to create an environment where every individual, regardless of their background, can access opportunities they rightfully deserve,” Rodas Figueroa said, concluding their speech. 

Dean Hu ’26, an international student from China, focused their speech on how MUWU can represent international student workers. According to Macalester’s official records, international students make up 12-15 percent of the student body. Many of these students are on an F-1 visa, which significantly limits their working opportunities. F-1 visas permit international students to work up to 20 hours a week or to take part in Curricular Practical Training (CPT), which allows them to have paid internships. 

Hu noted in their speech that many international students depend on their work study as their only source of income. They added that through MUWU, international students could bargain for better wages, which would make their limited working hours more beneficial. 

“[Through MUWU], we can try to [allow] people who are stuck in an unfamiliar environment to create more opportunities for themselves,” Hu said. 

After a short pause, during which the crowd of students all together sang “There’s a Power in a Union,” Adali Trujillo ’27 gave a speech about their experiences of coming to Macalester from Laredo, Texas. The average income in their hometown is $23,000 per year, which is almost four times less than Macalester’s annual tuition of approximately $79,890. 

Trujillo said that although most Macalester students receive at least some financial aid, many are still forced to take out loans. According to Macalester’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, 52% of the 2023 graduates took out loans. 

Trujillo finished their speech with an appeal to the audience to support the union as MUWU could help students navigate these unfair conditions. 

“[MUWU] is here to help, not only with financial needs but with what your demands, with [whatever] you need as a student, as a worker and as a person are,” Trujillo said. “If you help us build [the union] up, we can give back to you. We can help.” 

 Kari Vivar-Cortez ’27 supports MUWU as a first-generation student coming from a low-income background, as she detailed in their speech. 

“Coming from a low-income household, I understand what it’s like to financially have to support yourself, which is why having a job is important to me,” Vivar-Cortez said. “And to have to worry about, ‘will I be making enough money to support myself and put myself through school?’ at such a young age is something that really we shouldn’t be burdened with.” 

In addition, in his time at Macalester, Vivar-Cortez has become friends with Cafe Mac workers and learned about how they often work for hours at a time without a break and do not receive enough formal training. 

“So to me, this union is voicing better conditions for my friends,” Vivar-Cortez said. “In the end, we are all equal students with equal standing and there should be no reason for all of us to have such disparity in our treatment. We are stronger when we stand together so let us stand for change.” 

Bontu Takele ’25 likes working as a sports medicine assistant (SMA) but does not like their working conditions, as they said in their speech. No matter the weather, she must stand for hours, carry a 15 pound caddy in each hand and wake up at 4:30 a.m. for football practice shifts — all for $15 an hour. 

“My job is worth minimum wage, but I do think it should be worth more,” Takele said. 

Further, Takele explained that some SMAs experience a lack of respect, and even verbal harassment, from athletes and bosses alike. 

“I have been harassed, yelled at and blatantly ignored in the past,” Takele said. “And reporting this is futile as coaches have been known to be perpetrators as well. And the only person I can report to about the harassment from my boss is my boss.” 

Takele said that they support MUWU for these reasons and hopes MUWU will advocate for grievance counselors to whom workers like him can bring their concerns. 

Finally, Roxy, one of the main MUWU organizers, who asked to be identified by first name only, stepped up to the stage to a big cheer.

Between four nights a week at the Grille and shifts as a Campus Center manager, Roxy works 32 hours a week on top of being a part-time student. 

Last semester, she almost dropped out of Macalester. She had started transitioning while on Macalester’s health care system, but it was not going smoothly. However, because she had paid for Macalester’s health insurance — due in part to Macalester not bringing much awareness to students ability to apply for Medicaid — it ended up being cheaper to stay in school. Through conversations with other low-income students, Roxy learned that she was not alone in this experience. 

She supports the union because of her challenges paying for medical care and because she makes minimum wage. 

Roxy ended her speech with a rallying cry for the power that a union can bring. 

“The union is a space where we can stand for each other and with each other,” she said. “It’s a place of power for students on campus, and a place where our concerns can be represented and fought for. 

“But organizing this union is more than just this moment. It is preparation for a lifelong fight. If we win, we show that when one student worker can’t make rent, or has to choose between food or health care, we will show [up]. If we win, we show the world that a group of random college students can win against a company with over a billion dollars in assets. We also show the other 19 million college students in the United States that is possible. So let’s fucking do it.” 


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Ella Stern, Associate Features Editor
Ella Stern (she/her) is a first-year prospective Poli Sci and/or History major from Natick, Massachusetts. She spends her free time thinking about Simon and Garfunkel, and also donkeys.

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